Mayor sends loud message

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    Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt is one of many Southlanders taking part in a campaign to "get their voices heard". Photo: Laura Smith

    CAN you hear us minister?

    These are the words members of the Southland community have said as part of a video campaign in opposition to the Government’s polytechnic merger plan.

    Campaign organiser Carla Forbes said Education Minister Chris Hipkins did not listen to Southlanders’ concerns regarding the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT).

    “We know it’s a David and Goliath situation, we are aware of that. It’s too important not to push.”

    Invercargill-based Labour list MP Liz Craig interviewed Mr Hipkins on the radio, where he tried to address some of those concerns.

    When asked why SIT would need to be included in the changes, he said, “we want to ensure SIT can thrive to the future and continue to deliver to the needs of Southland and the community. If we said, SIT, we will park you in a corner and will reform the rest of the system and we won’t consider the impacts those reforms are going to have on you – that could be very damaging for SIT.”

    In response to how Southlanders would still be able to have a say on what’s happening locally, he said all parts of government would be drawn together to deliver the skills local industry and businesses “need to thrive”.

    Ms Forbes said it was important to “make some noise”, before the proposal progressed.

    “Impacts to the region are so large that it would be remiss not to do everything we could.”

    The campaign included different aspects of the Southland community, including Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt, the Southland Stags and local business figures.

    Sir Tim didn’t miss the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Kiwi Indian Hall of Fame Awards in Auckland last week, and said when they met, she started a conversation about the polytech.

    “We were greeting and she said to me, ‘I would want to continue this talk but without 600 people listening to us’.”

    A meeting was to be organised as soon as possible, he said.

    “At least the wheels are turning.”

    Southland Stags team manager Richard Smith said having SIT as a main sponsor was part of its identity. “It’s very important to keep that identity and individuality that other provinces don’t have… whatever money we can get is useful really.”

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